Artibus et Historiae no. 74 (XXXVII)

2016, ISSN 0391-9064

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NICHOLAS TURNER - Interpretations of Raphael’s Uffizi St John the Baptist by Bolognese Rivals Guido Reni and Guercino (pp. 227–239)

At different moments in their careers, two rival Bolognese painters, Guido Reni (1575–1642) and Guercino (1591–1666), had their imaginations fired by the composition of Raphael’s Uffizi St John the Baptist. That they should have taken inspiration from Raphael’s famous figure at all shows how the gap between Italian Renaissance and Baroque painting was not as wide as is sometimes thought and that it was sometimes bridged by borrowings and adaptations of this sort. Few seventeenth-century painters could have seen Raphael’s canvas in the original because of its inaccessibility at the heart of the Medici palace. So for nearly three centuries, the daring pose of Raphael’s youthful St John was known only through a chiaroscuro woodcut by Ugo da Carpi (c. 1502–1532), datable soon after Raphael’s death in 1520.

In his Uffizi painting Raphael has taken on the difficult challenge of representing the male nude out-of-doors, in the half-light. In Reni’s St John the Baptist in the Dulwich College Picture Gallery, London, datable 1635–1636, and in Guercino’s picture of the same subject in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, painted in 1641, the pose of the protagonist was indebted to Raphael’s prototype, but the level of the surrounding light has been raised. This accentuates the contrasts between light and shadow across the body, reducing the play of mid-tones in the intervening areas, which made the task of both Reni and Guercino that bit more difficult than that of their famous predecessor. Both have, of course, profited from the opportunity to show his prowess in modulating the musculature over a young man’s physique.

Unpublished drawings by each painter, which toy with ideas based on Raphael’s prototype while the draughtsman was planning an independent figure of the saint of his own, are discussed to document the link between the Renaissance master and his seventeenth-century successors.

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